FlameCon Ignites TTRPG Inspiration

My first Dungeons & Dragons character was a 6’3” tall, 300-something-pound black dragonborn cleric named Alina. Her childhood nickname was “Mender” and when our campaign began, she had just come into adulthood and was on a year-long pilgrimage away from her clan to decide if she wanted to commit herself to hermitage or if she wanted to leave behind her people and live amongst others. She made new friends by offering them “calming herb” and despite the fact that she literally spat acid, she was terrible in combat; her strength modifier was -1, which was comical because of how big she was. She swung her quarterstaff like a baseball bat and missed her target almost every time.

I love Alina. I didn’t love how battle-focused our campaign was, or how much of each session was spent crunching numbers to determine who won a fight. I enjoyed the group dynamics of our campaign, but I wanted more from the story, and I didn’t know how to communicate that. I don’t think I even realized that this was what I wanted at the time; I just knew that after each session, though I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for leveling up, only a handful of moments really stuck with me until we played again. When the campaign fizzled out, it was partially because I decided that D&D wasn’t for me.

Since then, I’ve gotten heavily involved in an Apocalypse World campaign, which is (literally and figuratively) a whole different world. My partner runs that game and we play every other week with two of our friends. All of us identify as lesbians and all of us are as invested in the fighting as we are in the kissing. There’s very little math involved in our sessions and as we grow more comfortable with the characters and the story, it’s becoming a Real Adventure.

My partner keeps insisting that I should give D&D another shot; they’ve even asked if I would consider being a Dungeon Master, though I’ve always balked at the suggestion because it seems like so much pressure.

Then we went to Flame Con, and everything changed.

Among the many incredible panels at Flame Con 2018 was “Dungeons & Dragons & Queers & Comics,” moderated by Kate Sheridan. Vita Ayala, Noelle Stevenson, Molly Ostertag, Emily Cheeseman, Barbara Perez Marquez, and Little Corvus participated on the panel and the room was packed; I sat between my partner and a friend I’ve known online for years but only met in person for the first time at the con. The energy in the room was, in a word, palpable. It was exciting to hear some of our favorite creators talking about their OCs and why they love tabletop roleplay games, especially D&D.

Somewhere between Stevenson discussing her first character, a “chaotic evil disaster baby” tiefling warlock, and declaring her love for Misty Step, something clicked into place in my head. When Ayala told Stevenson that her character sounded “stressful,” when Marquez told the audience that after just a few months of campaigning, she realized she wanted to “be in charge,” when Cheeseman talked about how the latest installation of D&D 5E, allows for more character- and story-based games than just numbers- or combat-based ones, I heard a whirring in my head that slowly grew louder.

When the panel ended, I turned to my partner and said, “I want to play D&D like that.”

Their whole face lit up; for over a year, they’ve been playing D&D, building OCs, and working with me to develop an Apocalypse World character that isn’t one-dimensional. I’m a journalist, not a fiction writer; building characters isn’t my strong suit and it never has been.

I am, however, very into the concept of world-building. I love exploring scenery, including cultural norms and ideologies as they are represented in a story. I’m fascinated by high fantasy that’s well-structured and takes into account the vastness of the world where it takes place. Series like The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Temeraire, and the Tamora Pierce books spark my interest because they are so completely immersive. Although I have my fair share of issues with Harry Potter, I grew up with the books and I gobble up every bit of fanfiction that I can when I’m in a mood to sit in that world. I enjoy world-building because it allows me to set the scene. If I don’t understand the nuances of a setting, I don’t feel comfortable reporting on what happens within it.

That panel at Flame Con made me realize that Dungeons & Dragons absolutely has the capacity and the history to be the kind of chewy, immersive storytelling that I crave. My first-ever campaign was incredibly crunchy, too battle-focused and very mathy, but that doesn’t mean that my next campaign has to be that way. If I’m running the show, I make the rules. When Marquez said it took her just a few months of playing DND to realize she wanted to DM, that whirring in my head went haywire. As a dungeon master, the rules would be mostly up to me. As noted by several of the panelists, the hard-and-fast guidelines for telling stories through tabletop roleplay games are just that: guidelines. The fun is in playing, which includes keeping on your toes so the game doesn’t lose interest for your players.

When I sat in that panel room and felt the passion exuding from the panelists and from the audience, I remembered why D&D piqued my interest in the first place. And although we went to another panel right after, then trekked through the city for food before heading back to our AirBNB, that feeling didn’t leave me.

I thought about D&D all night, to the point that I had a dream about Alina running through an ancient forest with her friends. It felt like I’d been hit over the head in the best way possible; I couldn’t believe how deep the itch went. The next night, while we were still on vacation, I created a Pinterest board and a title for the campaign. I started thinking about NPCs. And immediately upon coming home, my partner made me a DM binder. I bought supplies to organize it and reserved a copy of the player’s manual from the library (because I’m so bad at working with PDFs).

Apparently, when Ayala was a kid, they found a TTRPG manual that they read cover-to-cover, thinking it was just a regular book. It taught them a lot about world-building, something that they’ve since used in campaigns as well as in their professional work. As someone who used to read science-for-kids books cover-to-cover, while taking notes, this approach appealed to me, even if Ayala presented it as a funny anecdote. I enjoy reading and researching; sliding into a DM role offers me the ability to do that across a broad spectrum of characters, as created by the players in my campaign, as well as the world that I’m building for them to play in.

Going into a brand-new campaign as a first-time DM is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I keep remembering things the panelists said at Flame Con (Ostertag discovered she could make friends through offering to DM campaigns; Stevenson is playing a new character who’s “trying to be good” in her latest campaign; each of the panelists explored identity through D&D) and welling up with the feeling of warmth and acceptance and safety that I had for the entire weekend, surrounded by other LGBTQ fans and creators. Every time, I get another inkling of an idea for the campaign and every time, I think about how my partner’s face lit up when I said I wanted to run the game.

I didn’t expect to walk away from Flame Con feeling like my whole world had been flipped upside down, but I did. And I’m ready for the change.


Samantha Puc is the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, as well as a freelance essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Mary Sue, Rogues Portal, and elsewhere. Samantha lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. For more, follow her on Twitter.

How Gay Can We Make It?

We are in a golden era for radically queer RPG content. Quivering on the edge of a straight, cis, male dominated dark age we’ve seemingly shot toward orgiastic rainbow dice rolling. There are cute, pastel d20 stickers being sold at major cons. There are Kickstarters for D20 Pride pins 17 times funded with 20 days to go. Artists are creating pins and stickers that both announce our sexuality and are clever plays on classic Dungeons & Dragons terminology. These keep selling out!

How did the only D20 rule system your mom’s heard of get so… gay? I suspect the truth is that it’s always been gay. It just depended on which basement you played in.

D&D created personal, life changing experiences. The culture it encourages is more about the people playing it than whatever edition we’re currently in. In fact, it’s helped many discover more about their identities and key aspects of themselves for a long time, now. We just haven’t gotten the chance to hear all of those stories.

Jeremy Crawford brought the LGBTQIA gaming community to the forefront for the 5th edition release when he mentioned that there would be more queer content. As a gay man, he was uniquely positioned to both change the published D&D content to more inclusive canon narrative, and announced that ‘people like him’ (people a lot more like us than the past images of D&D players portrayed) had made it in the gaming world.

I don’t know what the outcry of that announcement was. In the past I would have been arguing in forums and fighting on Facebook and whatever else. But there’s a large enough community that I’ve been able to encase myself inside of Queer TTRPG and never have a reason to leave. That wasn’t true for me just a few years prior.

The new canon content has not been perfect. As part of the this edition, Wizards of the Coast brought back some vintage adventures for updates. One of these was Tomb of Horrors.” The rebooted module, for reasons that remain unclear, kept a component of the original adventure where characters ‘switch’ genders upon entering a specific room. The language in the adventure as its written specifically refers to flipping the player characters’ gender on a binary. So, male to female, female to male. The problems with this were already covered by Christine Prevas in the above linked essay.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, the reasons for keeping that gameplay element are even more mysterious. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which the original adventure was written for, female characters were capped on their strength score. They could never get as strong as a male character could. From a mechanics standpoint, a room that “switches” your PC’s gender had the possibility for very real stat consequences. This has not been the case with Dungeons & Dragons since 3rd edition. Your chosen gender has no bearing on the game beyond roleplaying, so putting it in with seemingly little narrative thought was a bizarre and possibly lazy choice.

Dungeons & Dragons remains the most popular tabletop roleplaying system of all time. Its popularity has fueled interest in the medium like never before. There have almost always been other Table Top RolePlaying games, but with the advent of crowdfunding and media of all sorts in the mainstream introducing unquestionably queer characters, the market has exploded. Each new funded project is proof that there’s room for all of our systems. People want to play more, and they want ways to play differently.

Creators have imagined systems that explore new frontiers of fandom, created settings that stretch our imaginations beyond the high fantasy/hard sci fi binary, and crafted systems that groups can mold to their own narratives.

That being said, Dungeons & Dragons may not be the queer TTRPG we’re looking for. We can queer it up, and we should continue to do so, but progress has been achingly slow. While seemingly shooting forward, getting two genders of players acknowledged in the core rulebooks took over 26 years. How much longer will we have to wait for more than two genders? When will we see explicitly queer content in modules from queer creators released with the distribution of the D&D mainstream?

Queer Content: It’s What We Make

Since its release in 2014, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has received widespread attention from both experienced gamers and new players alike. This edition takes the jumble of rules and complex arithmetic that exists in previous editions and distills them into much simpler, streamlined mechanics. Given Wizard of the Coast’s new marketing model (which involved sending free player materials to game stores), as well as the creation of the Adventurers’ League, plus the growing trend in hobby gaming, D&D is being played by more players than ever before.

However, as the uncle to a certain skinny web-walker once said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The gaming community has expanded rapidly and encompasses a wider variety of people than ever before, including the LGBTQ+ community.

Wizards has attempted to respond to the community a few times. But the attempts have ranged anywhere between unnoticed to insulting. JosephineMaria delves into this issue in her article: This is not the Gay Future I Imagined.

I played D&D 3rd edition in college, but put it down for many years since then. One day, a good friend told me that he had started playing again in a new edition. I asked if I could come and watch, and he brought me to his group. They were a super nice bunch of people, and after stalking them for three sessions, I purchased my own Player’s Handbook, made a character, and was allowed to join. We were playing the second hardcover book: Princes of the Apocalypse. I played a male paladin who was sworn against demons, but had never actually met one (and didn’t even know what they looked like). It was fun.

After we finished that book, the new Adventurers’ League season was about to begin and the group was going to run the new hardcover book: Out of the Abyss. By this point I had grown to know the group pretty well and we were all friends. I found out that they were very adamant about LGBTQ+ acceptance, and so I conceived to play a new character.

Moloch the wizard was born, but at level four, it was revealed that he was under the effects of a curse. Once the curse was lifted, he literally transformed into the female sorceress, Valerie. Val may have been a female on paper, but she spent so many years as Moloch that he never entirely left her, and she struggled with her identity as well as the demon lords in the Underdark. It seemed like many of the group had been on the same wavelength: another player character had no gender identity whatsoever and soon became Val’s best friend. Another character was trans, only revealing this fact during an intimate conversation after the characters had built much trust between them. It was with the help of these friends that Val was eventually better able to come to terms with both her male and female inclinations.

Even more important, my very good friend confessed to me, while we were hanging out one night, that they had been struggling with their gender. They had been too frightened to approach me with the information until I made Valerie, and told me that their own character, Farrera, was who they felt like inside. D&D gave my friend the outlet she needed to explore her own feelings, and I’m very happy to have helped her.

Queer content is important to a large number of people. It allows us an outlet where we can explore our own fantasies in an air of acceptance. However, it can be, and has been done, incorrectly. Meeting the female partner of a female innkeeper? Yes please. Forcing a party to “swap sexes” as some sort of cross-dressing parody challenge? No.

So, I propose to you: If we want more Queer Content…make it. Make queer characters. Write queer adventures. Share your experience online, in text, audio and video. Players, don’t be afraid to experiment with non-traditional characters. GMs, you are the single, most important person at the table: please be receptive and supportive of the stories your players want to tell.

Maybe, someday, “queer content” will just be “content.” Until then, let’s show them how it’s done.


Artemis V. is a writer, designer, and avid tabletop gamer. Also check out their blog, Gender Games.

Taking the Terror Out of Error: Roleplaying Games, Queer Existence, & the Beauty of Failure

I have wondered for a long time what it is about roleplaying games that feels inherently queer to me. Something about the format of collaborative storytelling has always struck me as being a particularly sharp and insightful mode for telling queer stories. I thought, at first, that it might have something to do with the necessity of community, of the radical “camaraderie and companionship” Foucault cites as being central to queer life,1 with the way that collaboration is intimately connected to communities who need each other to survive.

I recently realized that it’s something much more simple than this: Roleplaying games de-privilege and decentralize the significance and necessity of success. They do not punish us for failing.

The word game, when talking about roleplaying games in this way, feels at first somewhat deceptive: games, we have been taught, have winners and losers. They have goals and win-conditions and we are conditioned to want to win.

But roleplaying games — or, at least, the best of them — don’t feel like this. You don’t win a roleplaying game; when the dice don’t come up in your favor, bad things happen, but they move the story along. A bad dice roll does not mean you lose, it just means the story carries on in a different direction than you anticipated. It isn’t a loss, it’s an unexpected complication. At the end of a session, or the end of a campaign, or the end of a story, the players are not divided up into winners and losers. Roleplaying games are not designed to be won.

Or, and perhaps this distinction is important, they have different win-conditions than triumphing over the people at the table with you.

Usually, in a roleplaying game, the person setting the win-conditions is you or your party. You set personal goals, both mechanically and narratively: I want to get enough money to buy this cool item, I want to level my character up enough to get this power, I want my character absolved of their crimes, I want my character to get vengeance on the person who killed her family. I want my character to find a new family. I want my character to realize that their distrust of their party members is holding them back and learn to trust. I want my character to come up against and overcome their fatal flaw. I want to have a funny story to tell after the game is over.

Good game design knows what it wants its players to accomplish, and it rewards them for accomplishing those things. Whether it’s fighting and slaying monsters, like in Dungeons & Dragons, or something a little more nuanced, like strengthening character relationships (Apocalypse World’s Hx mechanics, Dungeon World’s bonds), or playing truthfully to your character’s flaws even when it gets you in trouble (The Sprawl’s Personal Directives, etc.), a good roleplaying game rewards you for pursuing what you want to pursue. And many of them reward you for failing.

What appeals to me about roleplaying games is that we are mechanically encouraged to fail. In fact, the rules (of the game, of the universe) require it: no one will succeed every time. And so, as players, we are permitted to make mistakes without worrying that those mistakes will cost us the game.

After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen in a roleplaying game? Your character dies, and you roll a new one, joining into the story again with a fresh perspective and a chance to explore new angles, new dynamics, and often — in the case of games with differing classes or playbooks — new mechanics to explore.

There is something appealing, something almost liberating, about a game that not only allows you to go with the flow, but forces you to; about a game which doesn’t give you full control and, thus, never expects unconditional success. By setting up failure as something that not only can happen, but will and must happen, roleplaying games free us from the burden of success, and the pressure that comes with it.

There is a book that I think about a lot, with regards to failure: Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, a whirlwind of a book which explores not only failure but everything from anti-capitalism in animated films to temporality in Dude Where’s My Car. In it, Halberstam vocalizes a celebration of failure, and what failure can offer us.

He writes:

“Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well; for queers  failure can be a style, to cite Quentin Crisp, or a way of life, to cite Foucault, and it can stand in contrast to the grim scenarios of success that depend upon ‘trying and trying again.’ In fact if success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards.”2

These “different rewards,” for Halberstam, are everything from alternative family structures to alternative concepts of labor production, new ways of relating to one another that can allow us to escape the oppressive institutions of heteropatriarchal capitalism.

These “different rewards,” for me, are the itch that roleplaying games scratch. Narrative complications, unexpected character development, tough decisions that illuminate things about our characters and stories we never would have imagined if we had just been allowed to succeed at every pass. They are the things that make our stories lifelike, and keep us coming back to the table week after week.

In Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, Ahmed works to redefine the idea of happiness: it has become, she argues, an end goal which revolves around leading a life that is shaped to certain expectations, certain win-conditions which are set for us. Happiness, however, should not be an end goal, predetermined, but something else, something situational and not bound by artificially imposed limitations and expectations.

As she beautifully writes in her conclusion, “Killjoy Manifesto”:

“I stumble; maybe by stumbling I found you, maybe by stumbling I stumbled on happiness, a hap-full happiness; a happiness that is as fragile as the bodies we love and cherish.”3

This hap, this stumbling, is what roleplaying games at their best are all about. Happenstance and mishap, what delightful accidents can happen when we let go of the reins of narrative control and cede them over to a healthy mix of fate (dice, cards, etc) and trust (in the GM, in the other players, in the game itself and its designer, in the story we want to tell).

This hap, too, is what queer lives are about. None of us asked for this but still we make the most of it every day, embracing the small bits of luck we are granted. While others might see queerness as inherently unhappy — thanks to media which perpetuates the idea that the only outcomes to queer life are tragedy via early death or tragedy via personal loss — queer life is often centered around making the best out of bad situations, around building a life which accounts for mistakes, around redefining success.

It’s about rejecting the implicit win-conditions of life — settling down with a nice, heteronormative nuclear family — and setting our own win-conditions, whatever they may be.

As Joseph Litvak writes, “a lot of queer energy, later on, goes into . . . practices aimed at taking the terror out of error, at making the making of mistakes sexy, creative, even cognitively powerful. Doesn’t reading queer mean learning, among other things, that mistakes can be good rather than bad surprises?”4

Doesn’t playing queer mean learning these same things?

Playing roleplaying games, where our success at any action or decision is ultimately left up to chance — a roll of the dice or the drawing of a card, or the whims of another player — forces us to be open to not only the possibility of failure, but to be open to the good surprises that can come from the unexpected. It embraces the queer mode of failure and builds successful stories out of the inherent messiness of real life. It allows us to take our failures, whatever they may be — and, like in life, there will always be many — and find and embrace those different rewards.

Sources:

  1. Foucault, Michel. “Friendship as a Way of Life.” Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996. 308-12.
  1. Halberstam, J. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
  2. Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
  3. Litvak, Joseph. Caught in the Act: Theatricality in the Nineteenth Century English Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Qtd. in: Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Christine Prevas is a writer, graduate student, perpetual GM, and host of the delightfully queer actual play podcast The Unexplored Places.

This is not the Gay Future I Imagined

Several months ago, I posted about imagining gay futures through science fiction. That vision also includes more gay content in all settings, not excluding roleplaying games. While we may be having more LGBTQ+ media representation these days, much of it paints us in the same tired light as an American 1940s cautionary tale.

I touched on Star Trek: Discovery in the previous post, which features a male/male couple (with on screen kissing!!!). [Spoiler alert] One half of the couple dies. After the traumatic murder at the hands of a Manchurian candidate of the most bizarre variety (who we’re then supposed to forgive completely), the Emperor is introduced when the Discovery is thrown into an alternate universe.

The return of Michelle Yeoh was triumphant, especially when her character is triumphantly revealed to be bisexual when she decides to have a mixed gender threesome in the middle of a Starfleet mission. However, this triumvairing (I tried?!) ends when the Emperor pulls a weapon on the two she just made love to and coerces information out of them. The extreme use of force, and implied brutality of the character it cruelly offset by the revelation of their bisexuality.

Instead of fleshing out a more complex personality (which we were granted flashes of during her development with main character Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green), the Emperor seems without real motive and instead follows their gut down a disastrous path. Every possible shortcut is taken to show them as bad, including painting their bisexual tendencies in an amoral light when they jeopardize the mission to follow their own fancies.

Depicting bisexuality as an accessory to a lack of morality is not exclusive to science fiction. Games published Wizards of the Coast made waves when they rereleased the notorious adventure, “Curse of Strahd”, including LGBTQ+ subtext. Many reporting outlets picked up the story that the adventures for Dungeons & Dragons‘ 5th edition would be more gay, more diverse, more queer. But that’s proven, and continues to be, problematic.

Taylor of Riverhouse games threw a quote from Curse up on twitter and commented on the depictions of bisexuals in media:

Don’t get me wrong. Complex LGBTQ+ villains of all identities are really important. I want to see them. Other genres are already giving us these. For instance, the terribly sexist show Versaillefeatures one of the most well depicted homosexual relationships and complex bad guys I have perhaps ever seen on television in Philippe and the Chevalier (also named Philippe).

Varied depictions are also not completely absent from Fantasy. The wildly successful A Song of Ice and Fire adaptation, Game of Thrones, wisely decided not to remove the complicated love affair of Lord (KING) Renly and Loras Tyrell. I think we’ve come far enough to where we should not longer have to grasp at straws. I think Wizards of the Coast and other games publishers can make our future roleplaying a hell of a lot more postively queer.

Private Rooms: Gender, RPGs, & MUDs

CN: Author describes nonconsensual sexual experience that happened virtually while they were underage.


While browsing my usual internet sources, I found myself on Panoplit.org. On there, the founder posed a series of questions near the end of her article “What Do I Write About?. One thing she asked really stuck with me and I felt compelled to respond. After receiving a reply, I felt encouraged to tell a story.

My first experience playing an RPG (unless you count Rogue on the computer…does that count?) was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I bought it while perusing the computer software section at Barnes & Nobles (does anyone else remember when B&N stores used to have a software section?).

My sister and I always loved games and eagerly cracked it open at home. We found something unlike any other game we had ever seen. There were figures, books, pictures, maps, and numbers. So many numbers, yet also so much freedom. “Make your own adventures” the guidebook said. So we did. She took the role of Dungeon Master and I took Slinker the thief (no girls in this game, unless you count the drow in the Monster Manual). I don my sneaky black cloak and enter the gates of a broken castle, my eyes set on finding treasure and adventure. I meet my first monster three steps in: a horrible gargoyle! Slash slash went my dagger! …nothing. Bite bite went the Gargoyle.

Game Over.

We switch sides. She took the Cleric (also not a girl). She met her first monster: a Gnoll. Bash bash and she won. Roll for treasure: 100. On a d100. Three diamonds, netting her 3,000 gp in the first room. I was so jealous.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m now a freshman in high school. I still love RPGs. My sister and I have played 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons with her friend’s dad as DM. Final Fantasy VIII takes up much of my time outside of school, but I have also discovered text based RPGs called MUDs, Multi-User Dungeons. I spend many of my study periods in the compute lab “studying”. I created a male cleric and it took me some time to get out of the training areas.

I made a few mistakes and got bored of the character once I figured out the game better. I made a new character, and pause when it asks for the character’s gender. For the first time, the question strikes me as odd. For the cleric, I had just typed in ‘m’ because I guess I was used to male heroes. Or maybe because I was afraid? I don’t know. This time I pressed the ‘f’ key. A strange feeling goes through my body: almost like a mixture between fear and relief, I can’t really explain it.

I begin to play my female bard. I spend my study periods questing, getting better equipment and levelling up. I learn how to use the ‘charm’ spell to force NPC to type things into chat. It is hilarious. The other players are friendly and helpful. A few of them are very friendly. Much more friendly than they were to my cleric.

This goes on for a couple months until I was a regular. People cheered when I came online, and I cheered for them. We chatted a lot. I began to private chat with some of them. Some of the private chats became much more personal. I do not give out personal information.

One of my game friends wanted to show me an area of the game I have not seen before. The admins have made a section with apartments that players can purchase with gold. They have a lockable door, and players can use these apartments to sleep when they log off or to safely drop off items that they don’t want to carry around. I thought it was cool he had so much gold. He took me to his apartment. He has customized it with a beautiful description. I told him I think it is so cool. He gave me a flower. I said thank you. He locked the door. He used local chat to say he is happy we could have some alone time. I agreed. We chatted a little more. He asked me a lot of questions about if I liked parts of his apartment. He gave me a cookie item from a Valentine’s day event.

I am young and inexperienced and I do not know what is going on until he emotes to kiss me. I stared at the screen. I had never been kissed before, irl or in a game. I am nervous, but also really curious. I saw no harm in emoting kissing back. Then the emotes traveled south. I was confused and a little scared. I thought I understood what is going on because I have watched movies and heard stories from friends’ older siblings. I feel awkward. This is someone who has been very friendly to me. I feel bad and do not want him to feel the same awkwardness. I feel like this is somehow my fault.

I emote back some kind of response based on what I think an experienced girl would do in this situation. He does not respond for a bit. I sat there staring at the rated R material on my screen in the high school computer lab. He responded by asking how old I was. I type 16 (this is a lie). He was silent again for a time. Then he unlocked the door, said he was sorry, and left. We did not have private chats anymore. I did not tell anyone.

I went back to playing my cleric for a little. People were friendly, but not overly so. There were very few private chats. There were no invitations back to private apartments.

This was only the first experience of many to come. Over the next years, I join other online RPGs, but I begin to see a pattern. Whenever I am a boy, I can hide in the crowd unnoticed. Whenever I am a girl, there always seems to be a group of boys trying to stick their parts into mine. I do not “send pics”. I use the block or mute button when it is available. I stay off of voice chat.

Now I play D&D 5e with a group who is very open to players and characters who do not conform to binary gender expectations. I think I am lucky. But that is a story for another time.


Artemis V. is a writer, designer, and avid tabletop gamer.

“The Quest to be myself in a Magical World”

I first rolled the dice at age 15. My friends and I were teens with big dreams, so we each rolled characters who were idealized versions of ourselves. My friend Brent, who wanted all to view him as a gentle giant, rolled the half-orc Grobath, a barbarian with a gruff exterior but a heart of gold. Josh, the charismatic smart aleck, became the charming rogue Jack Wylder. Ben, who prided himself on his vast stores of knowledge, rolled the elf wizard Leewon. I—filled with fury, and always feeling like an outsider—created the half-elf sorceress Ceridwen.

As I neared thirty, finally coming to terms with my gender and sexuality, a powerful wave of nostalgia engulfed me. I wanted to make up for the dice-slinging adolescence I’d lost while living as a confused, angry girl. However, I now faced the dilemma of rolling a character who felt like me—a gay trans man—in a medieval-style world of hijinks, mishaps, and magical transformations.

Playing a transsexual character in the world of Dungeons and Dragons is quite like wearing a sign that reads, “Use me as a Plot Device!” You risk being discovered and exposed for what you “really” are. There’s also a good chance you’ll become the butt of hackneyed jokes. Worst of all, you risk losing whatever magical or physical changes you’ve accomplished to make your body more comfortable. Do you take a potion every morning to keep your manly physique? Well, now your supply has been stolen, and your party must catch the thief; all the while, you’re jogging around in the womanly curves you thought you’d finally escaped.

However, the thought of playing a male character who has never shared my struggles with gender did not appeal to me, either. A gay man who is not transgender might approach the world in a fundamentally different way than I do. Absent might be that maelstrom of confusion that kept me so long from realizing not only that I am a man but one that likes other men as well. I knew that, in order to solve this issue, I would have to travel back to my past as that furious young girl to discover how I could be myself in the world of D&D.

Ceridwen did fulfill some emotional needs for me, after all. I was an angry kid, and she had explosive fire spells in her arsenal and cast fireball every chance she got. As a Charisma-based caster, she had the ability to make others bend to her will, something I’d always felt inadequate in as a nerdy young pipsqueak. She was a half-elf, too—an eternal outsider in both human and elf societies. It bothered me deeply, however, that Ceridwen was apparently heart-stoppingly gorgeous. That’s typically what happens when you have an astronomical Charisma score. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but I’d always experienced the most powerful dysphoria in relation to prettiness. It’s hard enough dealing with beauty as a young girl, and I can guarantee it’s no easier when you throw gender dysphoria into the mix.

As I tried to envision Ceridwen as a half-elf male, I realized playing such a character would present precisely that confusing, complicated relationship to masculinity I know so well. Now, I have no patience for thinly-veiled allegories; in other words, I would never posit that half-elves are the transgender people of this world—just writing that makes me want to fireball something. Nevertheless, certain details about how this half-elf would relate to human masculinity feel quite similar to how I relate. Corvus, as I’ve decided to call him, is slightly smaller than your average human guy. He’s somewhat delicate-looking, and his beard took far too long to grow in properly. In the elf village where he grew up, Corvus was too loud, too awkward, too hairy and smelly, but in the face of burly human men, he can’t help but wonder, “How could I ever be considered one of them?”

Thankfully Corvus, like myself and Ceridwen before him, wears his outsider status as a badge of honor. Traditional society is simply too small to contain him. He is charismatic in a witty sense, can talk his way out of anything, and is handsome in his own way.  The elves and humans of that world may treat him with disdain, but that only fuels Corvus’ desire to become more skilled and powerful than ever before. He is, unapologetically, himself—and thus he allows me to be myself as well.


Jonathan Smith is a Cajun Ravenclaw living in Texas who loves craft beer, shrimp tacos, and reading nonfiction.